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August 1, 2014
LA Phil Debuts Suite from Dudamel's Libertador
Suites of Santaolalla's Motorcycle Diaries, Newman's Angels in America also premiere by Jon Burlingame

HOLLYWOOD—Gustavo Dudamel unveiled his first original film score, for the Venezuelan film Libertador, last night with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as part of the "Noche de Cine" evening of his "Americas and Americans" festival at the Hollywood Bowl.

A crowd of 7,500 offered a standing ovation to the acclaimed Venezuelan conductor at the conclusion of a 20-minute suite from the film, which stars Edgar Ramirez as legendary Latin American military leader Simon Bolivar. The film (in English, The Liberator) will be released Oct. 3 in the U.S., but extensive clips played on the Bowl's three giant screens as Dudamel conducted the Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale in his own music.

In program notes, Dudamel explained that he initially expected to be a "musical advisor" to director Alberto Arvelo but found himself so immersed in the story that he began composing the score himself. "It gave me a chance to immerse myself in a new aspect of music – film music – that is its own language, with its own demands and subtleties, and a genre for which I have the greatest love and respect. In film music, a single note can make an entire scene, but one wrong note can also ruin everything. To master the art of conveying great emotion through such simplicity is an important lesson for every artist."

The suite charts not only the score as it unfolds in the film, but also Bolivar's life: an opening heroic theme for French horn, bamboo flutes and Latin percussion for the South American setting, a tender love theme for Bolivar's wife, military cadences for the battle scenes, a capella choir for his bittersweet homecoming.

The Libertador suite was the climax of an evening devoted to film music from the Americas. Dudamel opened with a 10-minute suite from Bear McCreary's Battlestar Galactica TV series (2004-2009), with evocative vocals by Raya Yarbrough (singing in both Armenian and Latin) and others who performed on the original soundtrack including woodwind player Chris Bleth, electric violinist Paul Cartwright and percussionist MB Gordy leading a massive taiko drum section.

The evening also included the gentle piano and strings of "Once There Was a Hushpuppy" from Beasts of the Southern Wild (by composer Dan Romer and director Benh Zeitlin, from the 2012 film); and Emilio Kauderer's sweeping orchestral music from the Argentine crime thriller El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes), the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner.

Concluding the first half of the concert was a new symphonic suite from Gustavo Santaolalla's 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries, arranged by Tim Davies. Santaolalla took center stage and played at least four different guitars as he accompanied the Philharmonic in the 10-part, 20-minute suite. As on Libertador, flutist Pedro Eustache played various ethnic flutes and a battery of Latin percussion (including Gordy, Alex Acuna and others) lent an authentic regional feel to the music.

Opening the first half was another world premiere: a 17-minute distillation of the musical material from Thomas Newman's Grammy-nominated score for the 2003 miniseries Angels in America (originally orchestrated by Thomas Pasatieri, suite newly edited by J.A.C. Redford). Sensitive and delicate one moment, intense and dramatic the next, it used the Latin text of the Requiem Mass and drew on the full power of both the Philharmonic and the Master Chorale. Newman took a bow from the audience at the conclusion of the piece.

©2014 Jon Burlingame
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